How to roast a whole pumpkin

12 October 2014

A lot of American recipes call for canned pumpkin. I don't know if you can actually buy it here, I haven't checked, but it's certainly not an everyday pantry item. Besides, I like to avoid cans, because waste and expense.

Since roast pumpkin tastes so much better than boiled or microwaved, roast pumpkin puree is obviously the way to go, so I've always chopped up my pumpkin and roasted it to use in recipes that call for canned pumpkin. However, I recently tried a method with less prep work, and I don't think I’ll ever go back.

Roast pumpkin (whole)

  • 1 whole smallish pumpkin
  • Olive oil for brushing

  1. Preheat the oven to 180.
  2. Wash and dry the pumpkin, any dust left on the skin can cause problems as it collapses with cooking.
  3. Cut in half, scoop out the seeds and stringy bis.
  4. Brush cut face with olive oil and place face down on a rimmed baking tray. If there's no lip, you will end up having to clean pumpkin juice off the bottom of your oven. Don't ask me how I know.
  5. Put the tray in the oven, and cook until you can easily pierce the skin with a fork. This will vary depending on the size of your pumpkin, but it will probably take around 1.5 hours, start checking earlier if your pumpkin is on the smaller side.
  6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool until you can safely touch it.
  7. Flip the pumpkin over, and scoop the flesh out. I transfer it to a bowl and roughly mash it. If you need it to be sans any stringy bits for a more fancy dish (such as scones), then you can either push it through a mesh sieve, or attack it with a stick mixer or blender. If you're baking with it, you may also wish to drain it through a strainer to get rid of the excess water.
Pumpkin-based recipes coming soon (I hope!).

Almond and cranberry muesli bars (vegan)

01 October 2014

I've eaten a lot of muesli bars in my life. Most commercial muesli bars are not vegan. The ones that are (I'm talking to you Be Natural) taste rather crap. My favourites as a kid were the Uncle Toby's yoghurt topped ones, something I haven't figured out how to reproduce yet, although I believe it could be done at home with the help of a dehydrator. So, yoghurt topped these are not, but delicious they are, and pretty healthy too. Chewy, hearty, and not too sweet.

Almond and cranberry muesli bars

I've been cycling a lot lately, a long ride every weekend on top of my usual commuting, and find that one of these makes a great mid-ride pick-me-up. They also make good study food. I eat too much study food...

Almond and cranberry muesli bars

Almond and cranberry muesli bars

Makes: about 18 bars, depending on how you cut them

  • 1½ cups rolled oats
  • ½ cup almonds, roughly chopped
  • ½ cup shredded coconut
  • ¼ cup agave or maple syrup (or honey, if you're ok with that)
  • ¾ cup smooth peanut butter (or other nut butter)
  • ⅔ cup sweetened dried cranberries (craisins)
  • ½ cup chocolate chips

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180 and toast the oats in a brownie tin for about 15 minutes, or until lightly golden and crispy, then transfer to a large bowl.
  2. Now roast the almonds for about 10 minutes, or until fragrant, then transfer to the bowl.
  3. Turn off oven, then toast the coconut in the still warm oven for about 5 minutes, until golden. Watch closely, as coconut burns quickly.
  4. Meanwhile, mix the agave and peanut butter in a small saucepan over low heat until combined.
  5. Add all the remaining ingredients to the bowl, including the peanut butter mixture, and mix thoroughly.
  6. Once the brownie tin is cool enough, wipe it out, and line the bottom and sides with cling wrap. Fill with muesli bar mixture, and use the back of a spoon to distribute evenly, packing it down firmly to help it hold together.
  7. Cover with another layer of cling wrap,and transfer to the freezer for about 1 hour, or until solid.
  8. Remove all the cling wrap, transfer to a cutting board, and cut into bars, squares, or whatever you prefer. I cut mine in half lengthways, and then into small bars.
  9. Store in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer.

Almond and cranberry muesli bars

Cranberry "turkey" bagel (vegan)

20 September 2014

I haven't forgotten this blog, I've just had a mini explosion of uni assignments. I've still been doing some blog-related stuff, but I just haven't been able to get any recipes finalised, photographed and written up. Sorry.

In the meantime, here's a simple to prepare but rather gourmet lunch idea. I don't think I can get away with calling it a recipe, and it requires quite a few processed ingredients, but it's an awesome combination that I've had for lunch several times in the last few weeks, and it makes me oh so happy. You could do this as a sandwich instead of as a bagel, but having eaten it both ways, the bagel tastes way, way better.


Cranberry "turkey" bagel

Serves: 1

  • 1 relatively plain bagel - seeds are ok, but don't go for any strong flavourings
  • Vegan cream cheese such as Tofutti
  • Cranberry sauce
  • Mock deli meat - I've been using these, available at Woolies and probably Coles
  • Avocado
  • Salad leaves

  1. Halve your bagel, and spread Tofutti on one half, and cranberry sauce on the other
  2. Put 2-3 slices of deli "meat" on the cranberry side, top with some sliced avocado and lettuce, then but the lid on.
  3. Stuff into your face and enjoy escaping, for a time, from the thousands of words you're supposed to be writing.

Teriyaki Sauce (vegan)

30 August 2014

The first time I made a home made a teriyaki noodle bowl, I kept making contented humming noises and saying things along the lines of "I've cracked noodle box." This sauce is good. Really good. The day I took these photos, I was home alone and made a half recipe over noodles and veggies, which should have been enough for dinner and lunch the next day. I had to find something else for lunch...

Teriyaki Sauce

Makes: Enough sauce for 3-4 servings of stir fry
Adapted from: Oh She Glows

  • 4 1/2 tablespoons mirin
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
  • 3 teaspoons raw sugar, or to taste
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced (out of a tube/jar is fine)
  • pinch of chilli flakes
  • 1 tablespoon cornflour
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • sesame seeds for garnish

  1. Mix together cornflour and water in a small dish until smooth, and keep separate.
  2. Whisk together all the other ingredients in a small-to-medium mixing bowl.
  3. Set aside, to let the flavours meld, and prepare your stir fry or noodle bowl ingredients.
  4. Once your stir fry is done, pour in the sauce and bring to the boil
  5. Re-mix your cornflour, and then add to the sauce and stir through for about 30 seconds or until sauce is thickened, then remove from heat.
  6. Serve, garnished with sesame seeds.

Why isn't The Doctor a vegetarian?

25 August 2014

This past year I have turned into a bit of a Doctor Who nut. We started watching the reboot just before Christmas, and finished all seven seasons with a few weeks to spare before yesterday's launch of season 8. I freely acknowledge that it's not brilliant TV, it's no Game of Thrones, and most episodes have plot holes, often giant ones, but it's fun, entertaining, and, unlike Game of Thrones, rarely leaves me feeling depressed.

When I found out that yesterday's season premiere was going to be shown in cinemas, I immediately booked tickets, even though they were overpriced, because I wanted the experience of being introduced to Peter Capaldi's Doctor in cinemas. I even dressed for the occasion.

However, there is one thing that really bothers me. The Doctor has lived for over 1000 years. He always gives his enemies a chance, and is friends with all different species, and tends to reject differences between species as being relevant. He has a strong objection to causing harm, and an incredibly deontological (what you do matters more than the overall consequences) approach to ethics (Time War complexities aside). Why then, is he perfectly happy to eat roast beef, not to mention fish fingers and custard? It's true that humans (and presumably Gallifreyans) are good at cognitive dissonance, and he is probably better than most, considering his history in the Time War, but I still don't think that meat eating makes sense for his character.

Of course, The Doctor is supposed to be appealing to the everyday Brit, and I guess a vegetarian Doctor, let alone a vegan one, would probably damage that appeal somewhat. Furthermore, it probably wouldn't have occurred to the scriptwriters in the first place. That doesn't stop it from being jarring every time I see him tucking in to something he shouldn't. Furthermore, when I did a bit of digging, I discovered that the Sixth Doctor became vegetarian, and the Doctor wasn't seen to eat meat again until the reboot (source). Why couldn't that have been kept in for the reboot? They needn't have made a thing of it, just not shown the doctor sitting down and happily chowing down on animal flesh.

What do you think? Am I overanalysing an in general superficial storyline? Alternatively, what do you think of the Season 8 premiere?

I'm feeling cautiously optimistic that Clara is finally going to develop some character depth, and the throwaway line "Last time I checked you weren't a vegetarian" (no context given to avoid spoilers) was particularly interesting given that I already had this post half-written last night. I also fell like I'm going to like the new doctor. Of course, the only one I didn't like on intro was Tennant, who I think ended up being my favourite.

How to make genuinely delicious tofu

22 August 2014

When I was in primary school, Mum went through a phase where she tried cooking with tofu quite a bit. Actually, I only seem to remember one tofu recipe that she made repeatedly, it was tofu, capsicum and tomato in a watery sauce. At the time I had to hold my nose to eat it. My tastes have matured since then, but I suspect I would still find that meal bland and unappealing.

Fast forward to my first trip to Japan in late high school. There I thought I learned the trick to making tofu edible - it was using it as a meat filler rather than a meat replacer - minced meat + crumbled tofu was ok, if not as good as the mince without the tofu.

After returning to Australia, however, I'm pretty sure that I barely, if at all, saw tofu again until my next time in Japan. This time around, I discovered Aburaage, tofu that's been pre-deep fried for you, and that was pretty good, if you define good based on taste rather than the effect on your arteries. I actually bought that to cook with every now and then, but unfortunately, it's very expensive to buy here in Australia

After returning from Japan, I turned vegetarian, followed by vegan. It was time for me to forge a new relationship with tofu. It took a while. I've been vegetarian for nearly two years now, and it was only recently that I discovered how to make really good tofu.

A lot of people recommend freezing tofu to give it a meaty flavour and help it absorb the marinade. That definitely improves the tofu, but it's not the method that had me dancing around the kitchen and snatching pieces of tofu from the pan and shoving them into my mouth. Crispy on the outside, smooth and creamy on the inside, I never knew tofu could be this good. It's lightly salty though otherwise rather bland, but in a pleasant way, like chips are bland. Of course, once you've added it to a stir-fry with a flavoursome sauce, you won't need to worry about bland. Admittedly, it's not exactly low fat, but I'm ok with that.

surprisingly delicious tofu

How to make genuinely delicious tofu

Most of what I write here came from Herbivoracious. Definitely read that article in full. However, I'm going to reproduce the basics here, with some of my own perspective.

Step 1: Buy good tofu

Get good, fresh, firm or extra-firm tofu. Do not use the shelf-stable dry packed tofu. It has it's uses, but a stir fry is not one of them. If you can, buy tofu from your local Asian food shop rather than from Coles or Woolworths. I find this one to be excellent, even though I think it's only firm rather than extra firm.

It's made locally, so I'm not sure how readily available it is, but they sell it in my local Asian grocer. If you're in Melbourne, you may be able to find it. Whatever you do, do not use the organic firm tofu they sell in Coles, it has a really lumpy texture, which will not give you the effect we're after here.

Step 2: Cut your tofu

Rather than making big cubes, slice the tofu into thin slabs about 1cm thick. Then slice the rectangles in half on the diagonal to make triangles (my preference), or alternatively cube it, slice it into strips, or just leave as rectangles.

Step 3: Soak the tofu

This is optional in the guide I was following, but I have decreed that it is not. Soak the tofu in freshly boiled well-salted water for about 15 minutes, making sure that the pieces of tofu are separated so they all have water exposure. This pulls some of the moisture out of the tofu, improving the texture, and also makes it slightly salty and delicious straight out of the pan.

Step 4: Dry the tofu

Lay out a clean tea towel, spread out the tofu on top, then put another tea towel on top. Pat dry.

Step 5: Pan fry the tofu

Heat a pan over high heat, using a high smoke point neutral tasting oil. Peanut oil is good. You want to make sure there is a decent amount of oil in the pan. Do not skimp on the oil.

I go against instructions and do it in a non-stick pan (I don't own a cast iron one), though I turn the heat down a notch, and it still works great. Put the tofu in the pan in a single layer. You may need to do several batches, but if you overcrowd the pan it won't crisp.

When the tofu is golden brown, flip it over. When it's golden brown on both sides, set aside on some paper towel.

If you're making a stir fry, or curry or whatever, removing it from the pan is important. If you dump everything on your tofu, you will ruin all the work you have put into crisping the tofu. Add the tofu back into your dish right near the end, when you're putting the sauce into the stir fry, or just in time to heat up if it's a curry. Or just season it with some more salt and eat it. It really is surprisingly good.

surprisingly delicious tofu

Note: when I took these photos, I used (sustainably harvested) red palm oil for frying, because Mum bought it for me last time she visited. The vivid yellow colour comes from the red palm oil, so if you use peanut oil, expect a more ordinary colour. I couldn't bothered redoing it all with an ordinary oil just for the sake of realistic looking photos.

Traditional Lasagne - Veganized

17 August 2014

Growing up, Mum's lasagne was one of my favourite foods, and it easily beat any other traditional lasagne I'd ever eaten. I used to rave to my friends about how good Mum's lasagne was, especially when we got fed some terrible lasagne look-alike on school camp. In retrospect, I expect my friends found it rather tedious.

Vegan traditional lasagne

I don't usually cook with fake meats, but to make this vegan version taste authentic, I needed to try something other than lentils. Enter TVP, and I must say that I was pleasantly surprised at the result. In this dish, I suspect it could fool most omnivores, although it's not easy for me to test this theory.

This recipe is long and contains a lot of steps. It is time-consuming, but it isn't difficult. Give it a try, you won't be disappointed

Recipe Notes
  • Liquid smoke isn't the easiest ingredient to find in Australia. If you can't find it, it doesn't matter, I just added it to compensate for the smokiness of the missing bacon. You may be able to find it in a health food store, or, if you have one nearby, an import store.
  • It may seem like there's quite a bit of oil in the sugo. This is because meat naturally contains fat, but TVP doesn't have any, and needs fat added to give it a nice mouth-feel.
  • You shouldn't need to add any salt to the sugo because of the salt in the beef style stock. If you use a salt free stock powder, you might need to add salt. If you use a salty stock powder, and it's not salty enough, I'd recommend adding more stock powder instead of salt.
  • You can prepare this the morning of or even the day before. Just cover with clingwrap and store in the fridge. This makes it ideal for entertaining. I think that the fact that the lasagne noodles have time to absorb juices prior to going into the oven more or less compensates for the fact that the lasagne needs to be heated up from cold rather than warm.
  • You can use commercial vegan cheese on top instead of the cheesy sauce. In that case, just make half the amount of bechamel base, and then add the nutmeg to it.

Traditional Lasagna

Serves: 6-8
Veganised from Mum's lasagne recipe, which I think originally came off a lasagne box a long long time ago

TVP "Mince"
  • 3/4 cup TVP crumbles
  • 2/3 cup hot water
  • 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 1 tablespoon beef style stock powder (I use Massel brand)
Sugo (the tomato layer)
  • 2 + 2 tablespoons light oil (not virgin), divided
  • 1 Small onion
  • 1 quantity "mince"
  • ¾ cup dry white wine
  • 2 x 400g tins peeled and diced tomatoes
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 1 heaped teaspoon Italian herbs
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • Freshly ground black pepper
Bechamel/Cheesy topping
  • 4 tablespoons light olive oil (not virgin)
  • 4 tablespoons plain flour
  • 1.2L soymik 
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup Nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon Lemon juice
  • About 1 box instant lasagne sheets (6 large sheets)

TVP "Mince"
  1. Mix the stock powder and liquid smoke into the water
  2. Add the dry TVP to a medium sized pot, cover with the stock mixture, and cook over low to medium heat until the water is completely absorbed
  3. Add half the oil, and try to brown it, or at least cook until all the oil is absorbed, and then a few minutes afterwards. I find it difficult to get to brown.
  4. Set aside.
Vegan traditional lasagne - TVP "mince"

  1. In the same pot you used for the mince, heat the remaining oil, and cook the onion over medium heat until golden brown, then add back the mince.
  2. Increase to high heat, add wine and stir until it evaporates.
  3. Add the tinned tomatoes and tomato paste, and bring to the boil.
  4. Season with freshly ground black pepper, sugar and mixed herbs. Taste, and if it needs salt, add more beef stock powder, or if you prefer, salt.
  5. Cover, and set aside. 
Vegan traditional lasagne - Sugo

  1. Heat oil over medium heat, and whisk in flour.
  2. When the roux turns lightly golden, gradually pour in the soymilk, stirring constantly. It will go really lumpy at first, but as you keep adding milk and stirring it will smooth out.
  3. Season with salt and pepper and continue to stir until sauce has boiled and is smooth and thick.
  4. Vegan traditional lasagne - Bechamel sauce

  5. Divide in half
  6. Season one half with nutmeg. This forms the bechmel.
  7. Stir nutritional yeast and lemon juice into the other half. This forms the cheesy topping.
Vegan traditional lasagne - Cheesy topping

Assembling the Lasagne
  1. Lightly grease an oven-proof lasagne dish.
  2. Pour a thin layer of bechamel into the dish. 
  3. Vegan traditional lasagne - Assembly
  4. Arrange uncooked lasagna sheets over the bechamel. 
  5. Vegan traditional lasagne - Assembly
  6. Cover with half the sugo and half the remaining bechamel.
  7. Vegan traditional lasagne - Assembly
    Vegan traditional lasagne - Assembly
  8. Add another layer of lasagne sheets.
  9. Repeat step 4 and 5.
  10. Vegan traditional lasagne - Assembly
  11. Cover the top with the cheese sauce, making sure that there isn't any lasagne sheet left uncovered, or it won't have the moisture it needs to cook.
  12. Vegan traditional lasagne - Assembly
  13. Bake in oven at 180°C for 35-45 minutes or until the lasagne sheets are soft (you can try pricking it with a fork to test). 
  14. Take from oven, cover, and allow to set for 10-15 minutes. Don't be tempted to skip this, or you will end up with slop. Tasty slop, but not at all attractive looking.
  15. Vegan traditional lasagne
  16. Serve with garlic bread, or even better fresh hot bread (Coles/Woolworths bake-at-home dinner rolls are a deliciously easy option) and a fresh garden salad.

At this point, I need to rant about lasagne photography. If it's hot, it falls apart and forms a gloopy mess that is completely not photogenic. If it's cold, it holds together well, but somehow, it's visibly cold and unappetizing in the photo (see below). I think the trick is to cool it completely, then cut it, and then microwave it a little bit, so the top is warm but the insides are still cold, and then it holds together fairly well but doesn't have that unappetizing cold look to it. At that point, however, I'd rather given up. It was the third time I'd made this lasagne to develop the recipe (you can see that some of the photos were taken in different kitchens), and it was the second day of eating and photographing that particular lasagne, and I didn't want to reheat two extra serves of lasagne that weren't going to be eaten that day.

Vegan traditional lasagne

Seriously though, make this lasagne. It's seriously good comfort food.